Connecticut's small town economic development directors envision creating and expanding downtown revitalization programs with funds from the state's newest infrastructure improvement grant program.
The Main Street Investment Fund, created during last fall's jobs special session, has received $5 million and is accepting applications for small town redevelopment projects. The money will be awarded after the Sept. 28 deadline.
Applications are available for grants up to $500,000 to towns with less than 30,000 residents, or those eligible for Connecticut's Small Town Economic Assistance Program.
The Rocky Hill economic development director, Ray Carpentino, sees a possible expansion of the town's main streetscape program under Main Street funds.
“Thinking as a planner, this program pushes the town to look closer at a project and see how it would fit into a long-term infrastructure plan,” said Carpentino. “The STEAP program doesn't require the same depth of planning.”
Rocky Hill is in the midst of a six-year renovation plan — the Silas Deane Streetscape — funded by five STEAP grants totaling $1.7 million. The town is looking to apply for Main Street money to help fund the Silas Deane Streetscape, or provide additional funding for future infrastructure renovation projects.
The Silas Deane Streetscape's purposes are to identify and re-create a town center, establish a gateway to the government center and the historical Rocky Hill Ferry, and establish and improve the pedestrian experience.
Kevin Maloney, spokesman of Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, is anticipating that the Main Street Investment Fund will work to the advantage of many communities.
“This program will provide another avenue for towns to bolster their commercial centers, specifically suburban and rural communities that continuously struggle to access funding for business and job growth,” said Maloney.
Smaller communities are challenged with attempting to grow their commercial centers into robust, successful, and profitable downtown areas, he said. The Main Street Investment Fund targets these small towns, where it aims to promote commercial activity and increase local job numbers by providing grants to finance infrastructure renovations.
Eligible towns can fund a variety of projects, including building and façade renovations, improved street lighting, sidewalk construction, signage, recreational space, and any other necessary renovations to the economic success of the municipality.
The Town of Plainville is renovating its business district, focusing on pedestrian lighting, renovated curbing and sidewalks, and new landscaping.
With Main Street funds, Plainville officials envision this project expanding into other areas, or simply make the existing renovation area nicer.
“Improvements to any downtown district pay off in dividends,” said Mark DeVoe, director of planning and economic development in Plainville. “The downtown business district is a core investment in any town, and maintaining the area benefits the entire municipality.”
Enhancements such as streetscape improvements, sidewalk renovations, and increased street lighting can help to spur other types of private investments, DeVoe said.
“We want pedestrians to cross the road comfortably, utilize enhanced parking facilities for their vehicles, and ultimately provide a community for people and businesses to thrive happily together,” said John Bossi, director of technical services in Plainville.
Commercial property owners who support and enhance a qualified town project will receive financial incentives for expenditures used toward their Main Street Investment Fund contributions.
“Creating a sense of place for residents and visitors is important,” said DeVoe. “The vibrancy of any downtown is a reflection of the town as a whole.”